Monday, June 29, 2009

I Don't Believe In Sin

I had a thought recently about people who claim not to believe in sin. I say "claim" because, as you'll see, they actually do believe in sin. It came about because I have contact with someone who claims not to believe in sin… that is, this person denies that there's such a thing as sin, and will even say that they do not agree that there are things a person should not do. This is a very common idea, particularly in the new age movement.

It occurred to me, however, that I've seen the very people who express this view become angry at or disappointed in another person or group of people when that person (or persons) has done something that they don't approve of or otherwise doesn't meet their expectation. When they do this they're demonstrating a firm belief in sin, regardless of their claims to the contrary.

First, we should understand just what the word "sin" means. The word "sin" is really an old archery term which means to "miss the mark" or "fall short of a standard." That's a pretty broad idea. Although we wouldn't use it this way today, it would actually be correct to say that missing the bullseye on a target is a "sin." The bullseye is the target, the "standard," and you missed it. But notice that it doesn't say whose standard has been missed or what that particular standard might have been. Even though we usually think of a "sin" being a violation of God's standard, if you think about what the word really means, it turns out it can be anyone's standard pertaining to virtually anything.

So that means that you could set a standard that you want me to meet. Doesn't matter what it is. Maybe you want me to mow your lawn by the end of next week. Whatever. If Saturday comes and I haven't mowed your lawn, then you could say I've "sinned".

Now just because I didn't mow your lawn when you wanted me to doesn't mean I've sinned against God. Again, the basic concept of sin involves a standard, set by someone, but that someone may or may not be God. The Bible represents God's standards it's easy to see that everyone falls short of that standard. You could give someone another set of standards and although you might hold a person to those standards, God might not. It just depends on what those standards are.

The bottom line is that "sin" need not be such a scary word. People don't like it because of the spiritual or religious connotation it usually carries. But it's really much more broad than that.

The point is, it's a kind of hard to say you "don't believe in sin" if you understand properly what the word means. You see, the person who says they don't believe in sin will find themselves in an awful predicament the next time someone they know, maybe a spouse or a friend or family member, falls short of their own expectations. They claim not to believe in falling short of expectations, after all.

Forget about God's standards for a moment and think of a married couple. Each spouse has set a standard for the other to meet: One of those standards is fidelity. Each spouse expects the other to be faithful. That's the standard. Now if the husband fails to meet this standard (again, we're not talking about God's standard) the wife is likely to get very angry and very disappointed. Why? Because her standard was not met. But if the wife is someone who doesn't believe in falling short of a standard, then just what does she have to get upset about? Why should she have the standard to begin with? She should have absolutely no negative reaction at all to her husband's infidelity if there is really no such thing as sin. In fact, if there is no such thing as sin, then none of us has the right to get angry at anyone, or to be disappointed in anyone, when our standards are not met. In anything.

So, if someone steals your bag of groceries, just shrug it off. They didn't fall short of your standard, because there's no such thing as falling short of a standard. If your friend stabs you in the back, just shrug it off. No such thing as sin, remember? The checker shorts you $20 in change? Don't get angry. No such thing as falling short of a standard, remember? If a politician breaks a promise, not to worry. No such thing as falling short.

Maybe I'm not being fair. After all, when people say they don't believe in sin, what they're talking about is God's standard. They're saying they don't believe in a god who has a standard. They're not saying they can't have a standard. Right?

Exactly right. They think it's okay for them to set a standard and hold people accountable to it, but it's not okay for God to set a standard and hold them accountable to it. I mean if God can't have a standard, then why should we have a standard? I'm going to object to God setting a standard and holding me to it, but then I'm going to set standards for others and hold them to my standard? How hypocritical is that?

There's no easy way out of this one, I'm afraid. A person who really, honestly believes there's no such thing as sin has absolutely no right to ever get angry at anyone for anything. If they do get angry at someone for something, then they're either a hypocrite or they have to admit that there's such a thing as sin. No way out.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Origin of Information

About eight or nine years ago my sister gave me some audio cassettes with Bible study lessons from Chuck Missler. The lessons had a fair amount of scientific content in them and were quite interesting and informative. But one lesson in particular really captivated me, and it was a lesson that Missler himself didn't teach. Instead, he had brought in a man named Stephen C. Meyer who was part of an organization in Seattle called The Discovery Institute, and Meyer made a presentation called "The Origin of Information." In this presentation, Meyer explained how the code in DNA specifies certain proteins, what amino acids are and how they form proteins, etc. There was much emphasis in his presentation on the information that was encoded in the DNA, and he pointed out that ultimately origin-of-life scientists needed to explain where this information came from in the first instance.

He then went on to explain that as science seeks explanations for phenomena, it generally explains those phenomena in one of three ways: Either something happened by chance, by necessity, or by design. For example, when you enter the town of Bend, Oregon on Hwy 97, you will see a large embankment with bushes growing on it which spell out "BEND". If you wanted to explain how this happened, your explanation might invoke chance, where the bushes just happened to grow that way. Or your explanation might invoke natural laws which made it "necessary" that the bushes would grow that way. Or, your explanation might invoke design, that some agent arranged the bushes in that fashion for a purpose. This is known as "the explanatory filter."

Meyer continued his presentation by running the information processing system of DNA through this explanatory filter. First up was the idea of chance. Meyer calculated the probability that a relatively SHORT protein, (a protein made from a relatively small number of amino acids) could be arrived at by chance. The answer was that, well, the chances of such a thing happening were "not very good." In fact, the probability is so small that it surpassed what probability theorists call the "universal probability bound" in other words, there are not enough probabilistic resources in the universe to allow such a thing to happen. And that's just a single, relatively short protein molecule. Meyer pointed out that because of this, origin-of-life scientists had abandoned chance as a likely candidate back in the 60s.

Next, he considered necessity. Could it be that some set of natural laws involving physics and chemistry made it somehow "necessary" for this complex system to come about? Can natural laws produce information of the kind we find in DNA? Meyer demonstrates that natural laws can produce order, but not of the sort found in DNA. As an information carrier, the based in DNA are sequenced in a specific way… in terms of how the bases are integrated into the structure of the DNA, it was clear that natural laws of physics and chemistry were responsible. But that couldn't explain the SEQUENCING of those bases. Meyer illustrated this with magnetic letters on the refrigerator which might spell out a message: Laws of physics could explain why the letters stuck to the refrigerator, but they couldn't explain how those letters were sequenced in that way. So, appeals to necessity don't seem to work any better than appeals to chance when it comes to explaining the origin of information.

So then Meyer invoked the last filter: Design. In our human experience, we know very well that when we see information, we infer design quite naturally. Like the topiary I mentioned earlier that spells out "BEND". We have absolutely no trouble inferring design from that arrangement and in fact if someone suggested that the topiary came about by chance or necessity, any reasonable person would scoff at the idea. That it was designed is simply OBVIOUS. So as an explanation for the origin of information, and not just information itself but also the information processing system in a living cell, design becomes an extremely attractive candidate.

Well, Meyer gave the presentation which I heard about ten years ago… in the presentation he references the movie "Contact" which came out in 1997. Meyer made a lot of what seemed like very powerful arguments in that presentation, but of course there are many in the scientific community who still resist these arguments. But the question is, in the ten or so years since Meyer gave this particular presentation, has anyone been able to adequately explain how chance and/or necessity produced information?

Well just yesterday I saw that Stephen Meyer had just given a presentation at the Heritage Foundation to publicize the launch of his new book "Signature in the Cell". So I decided to check it out. The presentation is about an hour long. You can watch the presentation here. What struck me about the presentation is that it was VERY similar to the "Origin of Information" presentation that I'd heard 8 or 9 years ago. The major points hadn't changed one little bit. What could we conclude from this? Well, I suppose we could conclude that Stephen Meyer is just very, very stubborn. In fact, I'm sure many folks conclude precisely that.

But if you understand his arguments and if you follow this debate at all, you realize that his presentation hasn't changed because the challenges it offers have not yet been addressed. His arguments still stand, in other words. This is reinforced by the admission by none other than Richard Dawkins in the movie "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" that origin-of-life scientists really have no idea how life began. No idea, Dawkins says. Does this sound like someone who's equipped to answer Meyer's challenges? Not hardly.

It seems much more reasonable to conclude that Meyer's arguments for design are very well-founded and, in fact, rock-solid. Darwinists or Naturalists simply have no credible response to them and their attempts at refutation end up falling flat. If you watch the presentation at Heritage, you'll see a short Q & A session at the end where two very critical questions are raised against Meyer. But the challenges offered are anemic and Meyer dispenses with them quite easily.

The point of all this is that the pursuit of a naturalistic explanation of the origin of life has been incredibly unproductive. Naturalism has no explanation. But on the Intelligent Design side of things, an extremely GOOD and REASONABLE explanation DOES exist. It's just doesn't happen to be an explanation that a lot of people like.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Putting Religious Pluralism to the Test

Here's a fun little exercise to test the idea of religious pluralism, which is the notion that all religious world views are equally valid. This notion is extremely popular today and the notion that a single religious world view might actually turn out to be correct is extremely unpopular, to say the least.

But it turns out that religious pluralism refutes itself quite effectively. The diagram below demonstrates this by helping us visualize an assortment of religious world views. Yes, there are many other world religions, but how many there are doesn't matter for the purposes of this exercise. Just take a quick inventory of these different religious world views…

Now for the sake of the exercise, let's assume that all of these religious world views are equally valid or equally true. This is, after all, the idea of religious pluralism.

But now, let's suppose we "open up" one of these world views and see what it teaches…

Houston, we have a problem. If you look into what the Christian world view teaches, it teaches explicitly that all other religious world views are false. Now the Christian world view is one world view among many others… it is one of the many world views which are, according to religious pluralists, "equally valid" or "true." Okay, so let's agree with pluralism on that point: Christianity is a true religious world view. But wait… pluralism says all world religions are equally true, which means that Christianity would be true, but Christianity teaches that all other religious world views are false! So if Christianity is true, as pluralists will claim to allow, then all other world religions are false and if it's true that all other world religions are false, then pluralism is false!!

This illustration clearly shows the foolishness of religious pluralism. And not only that, but it can also show the basic dishonesty embedded in that view… because eventually you will find out that the religious pluralist isn't pluralistic at all… they reject Christianity. They have to in order to be pluralists!!

I think it's really kinda funny how these other world views end up being so fragile that, if you just take them seriously, they just collapse under their own weight. For some reason, I don't see Christianity collapsing under its own weight. Interesting.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Distinction Between Grace and Works

What does salvation by Grace mean, and how can you distinguish salvation by Grace from salvation by works?

Recent conversations I've had with the hosts of The Don Johnson Show have once again brought to my attention the widespread confusion about salvation within a Christian world view. In the recent past I've tried to sort this out, but these discussions have made me realize that my illustrations are still lacking.

My contention is this: The Bible tells us that a single thing is required in order to gain "eternal life" and that "thing" is that you "believe in" Jesus Christ. And this doesn't simply mean believing that a man named Jesus Christ existed at some point. Rather, it means that you trust in or rely on Christ for your salvation. That, of course, assumes that you understand properly who Jesus is and what He did while on the Earth.

I've encountered no shortage of confusion about this sort of thing. The hosts of The Don Johnson Show are examples of this. They claim to believe that salvation is not something that you earn by works. But then they turn right around and say "but you have to do work in order to get to Heaven." Or words to that effect. Well, I'm sorry… but that's like saying "I'm not lost, I just don't know where I'm at." If you have to do works in order to get to Heaven, then that is a works salvation! Whether they realize it or not, the hosts are trying to have it both ways and in the process, they've obfuscated the whole issue and have badly misled their audience.

In my discussions with them, they say they agree with me that you get saved by trusting in Christ. But, and here's where it falls apart for them: they continually asked me how it is that I know I'm trusting in Christ… as if I wasn't sure.

Who else (besides God) would know whether I was trusting in Christ? Why do I need to prove to myself that I trust this or that? I mean… I could understand wanting some sort of proof that someone else is trusting in Christ, but that's only because I'm not inside someone else's head! But I am inside my head, so I ought to know who I trust, right? So for starters, it's a silly question. But there actually is a simple answer to it. The answer is this: if I'm willing to conclude that I can get into Heaven with or without the good works which (may or may not) follow my salvation, then I can rightfully say that I trust in Christ.

But these guys think that unless they can demonstrate good works in their life, they can't be certain that they are saved. In other words, if they lack works, they're not saved. But notice that if a lack of works means you're not saved, then your salvation must depend upon what? Your works. But what happened to Christ in this equation? Their salvation has become a function of their works and not a function of Christ's work, and this necessarily means they're not trusting Christ. It all comes down to one question: Where do we get assurance of our salvation, and can we even have assurance of our salvation?

It turns out that the word "assurance" is linked to the word "trust." Let's say your car is in the shop for repairs, but you're going to need your car to go on a road trip next Wednesday. The mechanic assures you that he'll have your car finished in time for your trip. If his assurance is enough for you, you'll be making hotel reservations for Wednesday night. The mechanic said the car would be done, and you're trusting in him to get it done. Where does your assurance come from? Yourself? No. Your assurance comes from the mechanic who made the promise.

But what if you aren't assured by his promise? Well it seems to me that if you don't feel assured by his promise, that's exactly the same thing as not trusting him. So, you might offer to help the mechanic fix your car to make sure it gets done on time. After all, you're no slouch with a wrench yourself. So you ask your mechanic if you can help. Now put yourself in the shoes of the mechanic. Do you [the mechanic] think your customer trusts you? Your customer wants assurance that their car will be finished on time… but where is your customer getting that assurance? From your promise, or from their own contribution? If your customer trusts you, then why is it they think they need to help? They want to help precisely because they don't trust you.

Much is said within Christianity about good works as evidence of salvation. And it's true that good works can be evidence of salvation. On the other hand, unsaved people can do good works just the same. So are good works necessarily evidence of salvation? No, not really. Good works is evidence of, well, good works. We can't know what motivates another person's good works can we? The guys at the Don Johnson Show were suggesting that I couldn't know whether I really trust Jesus unless I have certain kinds of works in my life. This is totally false. I can know that I trust Jesus simply by realizing that my works have nothing to do with whether I'm saved. The assurance of my salvation is not going to come from my works if my trust is in Christ. The extent to which I look to my works for assurance is the extent to which I don't really trust Christ. But if I trust in Christ, then my assurance must come from Christ and Christ alone, at which point I can comfortably say that I will be in Heaven with or without my works. That is trust. Christ here is like the mechanic in the illustration. If he says your car will be finished in time for your trip, then it'll be finished… with or without your contribution.

I'm convinced that this talk about proving your faith by your works (and questioning your salvation if you think your works aren't up-to-snuff) is extremely counter-productive. While supposing that we need our works in order to "prove" that we trust in Christ, we actually end up betraying our trust in Christ. Ironic? You bet it is.We should realize that reliance on our works for the assurance of our salvation reveals trust, but in the wrong object.

The reason why this can get so convoluted is that the Bible does, in fact, say that we have work to do as Christians. It's just that this work doesn't factor into our salvation in any way. Yes, you are to do the work. But even if you don't, you're saved. That's grace and that's trust.

Here are some contrasts which help to categorize and characterize salvation by works vs. salvation by grace:

One school of thought says that salvation as a PROCESS. A process is generally a gradual, or step-by-step progression toward an end. But this implies work and it implies a lack of assurance. If salvation is a process, then it takes work on your part and you can never be sure you're saved until you die. Why? Because your trust is wrapped up in your works and not in Christ.

The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that salvation is a GIFT. (Eph 2:8-9, Rom 6:23) A gift, by definition, isn't something you have to earn or work towards in any stepwise fashion. A gift is simply given to you. You've either received the gift, or you haven't. There's no process there. So guard against the notion that salvation is a process.

Another school of thought says that salvation is something which can be lost, either by forfeit or it can actually be revoked. This is another idea that is inconsistent with the concept of salvation by grace, and very consistent with a salvation by works. You might be saved initially, but if you don't hold up your end of the bargain, then your out on your ear. This is salvation by works. It ends up depending on us and not on Christ.

The Bible says that salvation is a gift from God (Eph 2:8-9 and Rom 6:23) and that God's gifts are not revocable. (Rom 11:29) The Bible also says that you are given Eternal Life when you place your trust in Christ. And Eternal Life lasts forever. If Eternal Life can be lost, then there's nothing "eternal" about it.

Another key contrast that's actually sort-of built-in to the other two is assurance. One school of thought says there's no way for us to have absolute assurance of our salvation. Well, this view, again, is inconsistent with salvation by Grace, and is very consistent with salvation by works. You can never really know if you've done enough works, so how could you ever be certain that you're going to Heaven?

Salvation by grace, on the other hand, would permit you complete and total assurance of salvation because salvation by grace doesn't depend upon you. The salvation is a gift, not a reward.

Thinking clearly about this is extremely important, and yet there is very little in the way of clear thinking about this issue in popular Christianity. Confusion and contradictions abound. Works are not required for salvation… only trust in Christ is required. That necessarily means that a person can go to Heaven without any works (1 Cor 3:15). If you can't go to Heaven without works, then that is a salvation by works and not by grace.

Monday, June 08, 2009

More on "The Road to Heaven"

After more thought, I realized there is yet another way (Number 6) to refute Don Johnson's view of salvation by works. Look again at what Mr. Johnson writes in his book "The Road to Heaven: A Traveler's Guide to Life's Narrow Way" (page 135):

"At first glance James seems to contradict Paul. He does not. The key is to understand the difference between works as Paul defined them and works as James defined them. For the purpose of my argument I will refer to Paul's term as "works" and James' term as "work." We are not to do works, but we are to work."

Johnson goes on to write this:

"Works" [as Paul defined them] are tasks undertaken for the purpose of raising our own stature. "Work" [as James defines them] is undertaken to raise God's stature. …Works are useless at procuring salvation. Work is an absolutely essential part of procuring salvation. We will never get to the promised land by doing works, but we will also never get to the Promised Land if we refuse to work."

So, Johnson is trying to convince the reader that they must do "work" (as James defines it) in order to get to Heaven, but he says it must not be work for the purpose of raising our own stature. That sort of work, he says, will not get us into Heaven. We must "work" only for the purpose of raising God's stature. If we do work for the purpose of raising our own stature, then we are doing "works" by Paul's definition, and this sort of work is useless at procuring salvation.

Question: Is it not true that my own stature is raised when I enter Heaven?

If you tell me that I can't get into Heaven unless I work (even if for the purpose of raising God's stature) and I become convinced that such works are necessary for entrance into Heaven, then guess what? Whatever I do will be for the purpose of raising my own stature. (i.e. enter Heaven) In other words, if I do any kind of work with the idea that without that work I can't go to Heaven, then the motivation behind that work becomes that of raising my own stature: getting myself into Heaven!

The only way to ensure that the work we do as Christians is properly motivated is to completely and totally disconnect it from entry into Heaven. We must regard our work as contributing absolutely nothing toward our entrance to Heaven. We must understand that we will go to Heaven with or without the work. We must understand that we are, for all practical purposes, already in Heaven.

This is why Paul says that salvation is not of works. The only way to work out of the motivation that Don Johnson suggests (that of raising God's stature) is to be convinced that doing that work does nothing to get you into Heaven. Otherwise, the work becomes for the purpose of getting yourself into Heaven, and that is ultimately a motivation of raising your own stature.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Obama vs. Obama

In Barack Obama's Cairo speech, he said the following:

"Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's."

This is one of those statements that's really so silly that it's hard to know where to start. I suppose in the interest of fairness, we should understand that Obama is responding to terrorist Muslims who appear, (if you've familiar with some parts of the Koran) to actually take the Koran seriously. Obviously, it's hard to argue with the assertion that you shouldn't kill people just because they won't believe as you do. But notice that's not really what he said. He said that the notion of measuring one's own faith by the rejection of someone else's faith is "disturbing".

What's so disturbing about it? Unless I've abandoned the Law of Non-Contradiction, I must reject every truth claim that contradicts the truth claims that I believe are true. That's just plain logic. If I am unwilling to say that contradictory truth claims are false, then I must not be convinced that the truth claims I claim to believe are actually true.

For example, if I say I believe that bigfoot exists but I'm unwilling to conclude that someone else's belief that bigfoot is a hoax is false, then by definition I do not believe that bigfoot exists. That bigfoot exists and that bigfoot is a hoax (doesn't really exist) are two contradictory truth claims. They cannot both be true. If I say I believe one, then I must reject the other.

How you deal with people who have different beliefs than yours is an entirely different question. Obviously, killing someone for this reason is not recommended. But there's nothing at all unreasonable about rejecting other peoples' religious beliefs as false. Doing so only demonstrates that you are actually committed to your own beliefs and you're willing to put your money where your mouth is. Notice, however, that this confidence doesn't prove that your beliefs are actually true. So it might be a good idea to examine your beliefs against all of the evidence and make sure that your beliefs are reasonable.

But there's something else funny about this statement that's much more subtle. Obama has made a truth claim here. The truth claim he's made is that the tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of someone else's faith is "disturbing". I assume he expects his audience to believe this statement (otherwise why say it?) but that would require his audience to reject the opposing truth claim which is that this tendency is totally reasonable and healthy and there's nothing at all disturbing about it. But, you see, in order to believe that this tendency is "disturbing" I have to be willing to reject the opposing truth claim! In other words, I have to give in to the very tendency Obama believes is so "disturbing" in order to agree with him that the tendency is "disturbing." Are you confused yet?

Obama's statement reveals a post-modern world view in which some rules of logic, such as the Law of Non-Contradiction, only apply when it's convenient for him. If you're a Muslim it's okay to believe in the Koran, but if you then conclude that every other religion is false, (which you would have to do given the Law of Non-Contradiction) then there's something wrong with you.

I'm a Christian, and by that I mean that I actually believe that the Bible is The Truth. I look at the numerous lines of historical and scientific evidence which support the Biblical account of history (evidence from biololgy, archaeology, sociology, geography, anthropology, etc) and I conclude that Christianity makes the best sense out of all the available evidence. Since the Koran teaches things contrary to the Bible, and since every other religion does as well, I must conclude that all other religions are false. That's just pure logic, folks. The Law of Non-Contradiction states that two contradictory truth claims cannot be true at the same time and in the same sense. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. The Koran teaches that He is NOT the Messiah. They can't both be true. Now, I could reject BOTH (and many do) without violating logic, but if I believe one, I must reject the other. But notice I don't feel compelled (as Obama suspects I should) to kill people who haven't reached the same conclusion. People are free to believe what they want to believe and I'm free to believe that they're wrong, am I not?

And am I not also free to believe that I should make some reasonable attempt to persuade someone if given the opportunity? Is that wrong? And if so, by who's account? I mean… if you were to say to me that I'm wrong to try to persuade others that what I believe is true, then aren't you trying to persuade me that what you believe is true?

When a Mormon comes to my door, I actually make an attempt to persuade them that what the LDS church teaches is false. They come to me with the same motive, do they not? I don't hold that against them, do I? No, I don't. I'm polite, I'm respectful, I ask them questions and generally carry on a pleasant conversation with them. I just think they're religious system is false and I think that because it teaches something contrary to what Christianity teaches and, perhaps even more importantly, there's absolutely no evidence to support anything that the LDS church teaches. So if I believe Christianity, I must conclude that any religion which contradicts Christianity is false.

We have been overtaken in this country by post-modernism, a philosophy which denies absolute truth, denies objective morality, and believes that two contradictory truth claims can be true at the same time and in the same sense. It's an abandonment of logic. This will do us no good whatsoever.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Works, or No Works

Recently I began listening to a radio program (as a podcast) called The Don Johnson Show and while I have found the show very informative for it's discussions on Christian apologetics, I was pretty stunned when I heard a show where the hosts' view that salvation must be earned via works was clearly articulated. Now understand, they insist that they believe salvation is "by grace" and is "not of works." But they turn right around and teach that we must do works in order to go to Heaven.

What follows is a 5-point rebuttal of the way they reach this contradictory understanding. And they will claim, by the way, that it's not contradictory. First, I have to explain what they teach.

Their argument centers on what they say what would otherwise be a contradiction between Ephesians 2:8-9 and James Chapter 2. For more background on this, see here. The hosts of the show believe that when Paul says "Not of works" he means not of a particular kind of works. Namely, works which are undertaken for the purpose of raising our own stature. Similarly, when James says in Chapter 2 that "Faith without works is dead", they believe he means a particular other kind of works. Namely, works undertaken for the purpose of raising God's stature. This is the core of their belief and thus Don Johnson writes in his book "The Road To Heaven: A Traveler's Guide to Life's Narrow Way" the following:

"At first glance James seems to contradict Paul. He does not. The key is to understand the difference between works as Paul defined them and works as James defined them. For the purpose of my argument I will refer to Paul's term as "works" and James' term as "work." We are not to do works, but we are to work."

The point of vulnerability here centers on Paul's use of the word "works", which is the Greek word "ergon." If I can show that Paul means works in a broad sense in Ephesians 2:8-9, then their view is shown to be false.

1. Paul's Use of "Ergon"

In all of Paul’s epistles he uses the word “ergon” (works) a total of thirty-seven times and twenty-four times he uses some kind of descriptor alongside “ergon” to describe the works he’s talking about. Obviously Paul gets more specific when he deems it necessary by adding some sort of descriptor, but other times he uses no descriptor, no adjective, which suggests that if he was referring to a particular kind of works in Ephesians 2:9, he would have added a descriptor for the sake of specificity. The fact that he used no descriptor means that, more than likely, he meant works in a broad sense; not just a particular kind of works.

These two verses are examples of Paul's use of adjectives. The first is only one verse away from the "not of works lest any man should boast".

Eph 2:10
"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."

Eph 5:11
"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them."

In 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 Paul clearly uses “ergon” to refer interchangeably to works which are not approved by God (burned up) and to works that are approved by God (rewarded).

1 Corinthians 3:13-15
"Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."

And this verse offers a serious challenge as well:

1 Thessalonians 5:13
"And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves."

Paul says we are to esteem very highly those who labor among us because of their works or "for their work's sake". Well if Paul defines "works" as "tasks undertaken for the purpose of raising our own stature" then just why would he tell us to esteem these people so highly? It seems to me that if Paul meant what Don Johnson says he meant by "works" that we should not esteem these people for their works!

Conclusion: In Eph 2:9, when Paul says that salvation is "not of works", he must be speaking of works generally.

2. Asymmetry in Specificity

Romans 4:5
"Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. "

Notice first of all that the word “ergon” here is used without an adjective. So either it means works in a very broad sense, or it means tasks undertaken for the purpose of raising one’s own stature.

Here Paul says that the payment a man receives for his work is what that man is owed, and it cannot be called a gift. But then Paul says that the man who does not work, but trusts in Jesus Christ, (trusting must not be work) his faith (trust) is counted as righteousness.

The contrast here is between work and trust. And notice the asymmetry: Paul is specific about the word trust. He means trust in a particular object: Christ. The one who justifies the ungodly. But he is ambiguous about the works. No descriptor. If he has in mind some particular definition of ‘works’, he does not make that clear at all. Isn’t that odd? Why would he do that?

Once again, the most reasonable conclusion is that Paul is talking about works in a very broad sense.

3. These Works vs. Those Works or Any Works vs. Grace?

Romans 11:6
"And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work."

Paul is driving a wedge here between the concept of grace and the concept of works. And we've already seen that Paul has no problem using adjectives when he feels it's necessary, so this is works generally. But if there's also a wedge to be driven between one category of works and another category of works, Paul does a lousy job of communicating that here, and everywhere else also. It seems the only important distinction in Paul's mind is between grace and works.

You cannot mix any kind of works with grace or grace is no more grace.

4. Passive, Active, or Middle?

Ephesians 2:8-9
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that (salvation) not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”

This verse gives us yet another way of demonstrating that Paul is not excluding a particular kind of “works”, and although it's subtle, it's very powerful.

The key here is the word for “saved.” That word in the Greek is “sesosmenoi” which is the passive voice form of "sozo" which means "to save". This means that the subject in the sentence (you) does not participate or contribute anything. Passive voice means the subject receives the action. If Paul understood that a certain kind of works were required in order to be saved, and by “not of works” he was only excluding another kind of works, then he could not have used the passive voice… he would have used the middle voice instead.

Conclusion: The Greek grammar in this verse forecloses on the possibility that Paul could have meant one kind of work while allowing for another kind of work. In other words, salvation is not of any kind of works. It is nothing that we do. God saves us… we are passive in that.

5. Anvils Make Poor Flotation Devices

It seems entirely reasonable to me to say that God approves of "works undertaken for the purpose of raising God’s stature" but does not approve of "works undertaken for the purpose of raising our own stature". Given that understanding, why would Paul need to tell anyone that they couldn’t earn their salvation by doing works not approved by God? Why would anyone suspect they could?

Do you need to tell someone clinging to floating debris that an anvil won’t keep them afloat?

Our nature inclines us to think that we can earn our way to Heaven by doing works that, we assume, are approved by God. This is the notion that Paul would need to speak against. Who goes around thinking they can get to Heaven on the basis of works that are not approved by God?

Conclusion: Once again, the most reasonable conclusion is that when Paul says "works", he means any and all works.